Star House, Wild Goose partnership provides new art opportunities to local homeless youth

Antwane Martin is a young homeless person working “a regular job” to try and pay off his car, in which he spends his nights when he's not crashing at his sister's place. He hopes to then be able to save up enough money to get his own apartment.

He's also an artist, thanks in large part to the art room at OSU Star House and the volunteers who staff it. For the last decade, Star House has served Columbus' homeless youth population, providing access to services in housing, employment and health. The drop-in center also provides programming in art and fitness, as well as basic needs such as a free laundry facility, a kitchen, a computer lab and just a place to hang out.

“The art room is an extra space where youth can let their creative juices flow and a lot of magic can happen just through art,” Star House Community Liaison Sarah Douglas said in an interview at Star House. “A lot of youth have come to me and asked, ‘Can I have a sketchbook? Because that's what I need to destress,' or, ‘It's the only way I can decompress when I get freaked out about something.'”

“Art is an escape,” Martin said in a separate interview at Star House. “It's how I express myself, how I leave that reality.”

The Visible Invisible is a student organization formed specifically in support of the art activities at Star House. Many of its members were already volunteering prior to the group's formal inception in 2015.

“It's really about spreading awareness and also breaking stereotypes. We try not to guide the youth too often on what kinds of things they create, we just allow them to express themselves. The art classes are focused less on formal art skills and more on creating a safe space for expression and just learning more about them,” said Juli Sasaki, president of The Visible Invisible.

“We're more facilitators,” said Hannah Torma, The Visible Invisible vice president. “It's not us helping them; it's a collaboration. It's not coming in to teach, but coming in to make art together.”

The first program of what would later become The Visible Invisible was a photography project. Before moving to its current location in the Milo-Grogan neighborhood, Star House was in a small space on campus. The only art supplies were donated cameras that “no one ever used,” Sasaki said.

“I asked the staff who they trust with a digital camera to go out and take pictures and bring it back,” she said. “Zero cameras were stolen and amazing photos were returned.”

The work was exhibited at Global Gallery Coffee Shop in Clintonville, the first of several exhibitions of work by Star House youth. (It also gave the organization its name. The prompt for this project was to capture images of things that the youth see but that the broader community might not.)

“It's really important that we have art events in addition to art classes,” Sasaki said. “There's so much talent. And these youth are always looking for ways to legitimize the skills they have, skills that are special because they've come about through the experience of homelessness. It becomes very powerful to have their skills presented in front of a group of people. And then the Columbus community can also become aware of this situation of homelessness.”

The Visible Invisible and Star House have recently partnered with Wild Goose Creative to expand the art opportunities available at Star House to include spoken word/poetry, improvisation, drama and more. Beginning last month, Wild Goose has coordinated local artists to provide additional classes in these disciplines. The first public program to come from this partnership will be “Civilization,” a monthly open mic at Wild Goose for which Star House youth will perform on Friday, March 3.

“What ‘Civilization' has to offer [the youth from Star House] is so simple,” said Searius Addishin, who hosts the monthly open mic geared for young people. “It gives them a stage to express their thoughts. And it offers value to their experiences, specifically because we are focused on youth.”

“The arts provide a really healthy way for people to explore their emotions, and real stories can come out while making or doing art,” Star House's Douglas said. “It's not re-traumatizing, but more coming to terms and reflecting. So often with this age group, people think it's too late, the damage is done. But this is the best time to intervene and teach healthy relationships. That's why art in all forms ... is incredibly important.”

Martin is now not just an experienced art-class participant, but also a veteran of the exhibitions coordinated through The Visible Invisible (the next of which is set for April 15). He's also working with Columbus artist Marisa Espe in an informal mentorship. Martin typically works in watercolor and pencil, but recently completed a work in which he covered a coat in shredded paper, a commentary on how hard we work for different kinds of paper and how quickly it goes away.

“Hopefully I can make something, do something, with my art,” he said. “It's therapeutic and helps me keep my positivity up. And it's just relaxing to let my creativity flow.”